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October 10, 2018

As you have already noticed, I have shared the credits for this week's story with Wayne McCaskey. I had the pleasure of knowing Wayne from working with him and also outside of the plant. As I wrote in last week's story, I consider Wayne to be one of the true storytellers I have met in my life. His passing was a great loss, but fortunately for us, he wrote down many of his stories in his book, "As I Recall." If he had not taken the time to commit those stories to paper, much of our county's more interesting history would have been lost over the years.

This week I will retell the story of "Infant Mary." Parts of the story are directly from Wayne's writing. Other parts are from my recollection as he told the story to me. Now you have to understand, a ghostly story told in person is a great thing to behold. The words written on paper may capture your attention, but when Wayne told his story, he knew at the precise point to pause and let you think about his words. Why, he may even point his finger dramatically at you to make sure you were paying attention. Or, he may even break out in a sudden laugh. These are the traits of a good storyteller, and Wayne could use them all.

Wayne began his story by telling that it took place in the Year of our Lord 1988. Good beginning don't you think? He got your attention by dramatizing the year. Anyway, back to our story. The old Williamson cemetery in the north end of town was in disarray and becoming overgrown with grasses and weeds. Wayne felt the situation needed to be remedied since some of the grave markers date back as far as the 1700s. In his book, he described the cemetery's location as being north of the town. It's a fact when the cemetery was first used, it was nearly a mile north of what we know as McEldowney Avenue. In our community's earliest history the town did not extend beyond the old fairgrounds. If you followed the dirt road north out of town you came to a rise in the land. Wayne and I speculated the cemetery was built there to be out of the flood plain. For nearly two hundred and fifty years members of the community have been laid to rest in this quiet place.

Wayne, along with a small group of others, decided to do something about the conditions of the cemetery. Head stones had fallen over and had been lost beneath tall grasses and weeds that had encroached onto the grounds. Along the edges of the cemetery, trees had fallen, leaving a tangled mess of limbs and leaves. Even worse, there were grave sites damaged by vandals, a problem that still happens today.

With contributions from relatives, state and local governments, the volunteers set about restoring the resting place of many of the town's earliest citizens. In fact, the cemetery could easily be deemed a historic site. Looking at the names and knowing some of our community's historical figures, I understand why Wayne and others felt a need to preserve this place for future generations.

In the daylight, we each tend to think of a cemetery as the last resting place of the departed and have no problem visiting. But come the darkness, a cemetery becomes a place we each would think twice about spending time alone. That's why Wayne found it a little unsettling when four people approached him wanting to spend time in the fading light of the old cemetery. They explained they were into the study of physicologhisty.

Wayne must have chuckled to himself as he asked them to spell that for him. I know he did when he retold the story to me. If you are interested, a physiologist is someone who studies normal and abnormal states of cognitive behaviors. Sounds to me like Wayne got it right when he found these people to be a little different.

Now, this is where Wayne's story starts into the world of ghosts. One of the women stepped closer to Wayne as she said, "She is here, don't you feel her here with us?" Without another word, the lady wandered off into other parts of the cemetery. As Wayne kept a wary eye on the wandering lady, another came up from behind and said, "Don't leave the gate open in the iron fence around the oak tree; there is a witch living there. If it is left open for more than four days she will escape and wander for eternity." I can almost see Wayne's face as he told me that part of the story. I would best describe it as disbelief well almost. He enjoyed telling the story. When Wayne retold me the story, he said the legend goes if the gate is open for more than four days, both the witch and the ghost of Mary will escape and wander the world for eternity. I asked why four days before they escaped. Wayne did not know; he just retold the story as he remembered.

I am guessing Wayne felt the whole experience with the four people and the story of ghosts and witches as simply the words of weirdos as he described them. But just to be sure, he returned a couple days later to make sure the gate was closed. Sure enough, it was, except now, in the bright sunlight, he found a small marker nearly hidden by leaves from the oak tree. He knelt down and brushed the leaves away, revealing the words, INFANT MARY 1887.

There is one more part to this story Wayne told. A short time later, he was telling this story to a young lady from the community. She revealed to him something he could not explain. Three young girls were visiting the cemetery, looking at the old tombstones. One of the girls asked the others to take her picture near the iron fence where Mary was buried. Now here's where it gets weird. When the pictures were developed, the one in which the girl was standing next to the fence also showed an image of a young girl in old-fashioned clothes. The three girls swore there was no one else in the cemetery besides them when the picture was taken. Could it have been that someone did leave the gate open?

When I was researching this story, one of the people I spoke with told me of seeing the picture the girls took some years before. They volunteer the fact that they had seen it without me asking. I was not able to find the picture to see the image for myself. But I do believe there is a picture of the grave site. Does it show a ghostly image? We may never know without the picture.

When I visited the cemetery a short time ago, I found the gate open. So I decided to get permission to spend time in the cemetery. I wanted to see for myself if, in the dark hours, Mary would wander from her resting place into our world. Next week I will tell you of my adventure as I spent a rainy night in the cemetery, looking for the Ghost of Mary, Through the Lens.



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